11 Football Terms Every Guy Should Know

While much of the football lexicon has been instilled in our brains from a young age, there are certain terms that occur infrequently enough that we might not necessarily know what they mean. While the announcers pretty much have PhD in football, often times the audience does not. Next time the announcers extol the virtues of a hitch pattern against a cover 2 defense, you can explain what that means to someone else, rather than just nod quietly and hope no one calls you out.

11. Flats
The flat is the area on a football field that runs from the line of scrimmage ten yards downfield, but only from the central hash marks to the edges of the field. Depending on the defense scheme, the flats are normally covered by the cornerbacks or outside linebackers. However, in rare instances of a CB blitz, the flats can be covered by a defensive end falling off the line and toward the sideline. Thee flats are often exploited through plays that send the CB deep with a receiver and freeze the assigned linebacker, often with a playfake.

10. Cover 2, Cover 3
Both cover 2 and cover 3 refer to types of “coverage shells.” A cover 2 conveys that two backs (generally the safeties) will fall back and each cover a deep half of the field, while a cover 3 generally has the strong safety playing up like a linebacker while the free safety and both corners covering the deep ball. Since the cover 3 actually offers less close coverage than a cover 2, it’s regarded as more of a run-stopping defensive strategy.

9. Nickel Defense
A nickel defense simply conveys that a 5th defensive back will be on the field, ostensibly to cover an anticipated pass. However, a nickel package allows a team to more freely blitz one of the defensive backs, so a nickel package doesn’t necessarily mean less pressure on the run or quarterback though it is meant to appear that there will be less pressure. Do not confuse a nickel back with “Nickelback”, the worst rock band in the history of the genre.

8. Dime Defense
As the nickel package includes a fifth defensive back, the dime package includes a sixth defensive back. While this package can be used aggressively, the lack of men in the box often means that a running back will have a decent jump out of the backfield before either or both blitzing defensive backs can reach the line, provided they aren’t positioned there already.

7. Prevent Defense
As John Madden said in early iterations of his video game, “The only thing the prevent defense does is prevent you from winning.” Clever guy, that Madden. The prevent D exists to protect a lead late in the game or the half. The philosophy is that deep coverage and protection against sideline routes will be emphasized at the expense of shorter gains over the middle. The name of the game is clock management, and keeping the ball inbounds and close means that although the opposition might gain real estate, they will do so while the clock continues to run with a fair chunk of ground left to cover.

6. Hitch Pattern
The term “hitch pattern” is used to describe two different types of routes run by a wide receiver. The simplest is hitch route is when the receiver will appear to run downfield at full speed, but after one or two steps, will quickly turn back to catch a short pass before the defender has time to react.

The other hitch route is actually short for “hitch-and-go”, in which the receiver will take two steps downfield, turn as if they are expecting a short pass, then continue downfield at full speed. This is a useful route if the defensive back is playing the receiver too tight and the offense wants to exploit it.

5. Drag
The drag route is a receiving pattern in which the receiver takes one or two steps downfield, then turns into the center of the field, running parallel to the line of scrimmage. It is often run in short yardage situations and often by tight ends who are covered loosely and are big enough to make a catch in the center of the field.

4. Trap
A trap is a running play in which a defensive player, often a linebacker is not initially picked up by a blocker, allowing them to pass through the line of scrimmage, at which point they are blocked by an offensive player, often a fullback or pulling lineman. This play is very useful if the defensive player must be blocked in a certain direction, as the element of surprise and momentum from the offensive player will allow the defensive player to be moved in a given direction rather easily.

3. Counter
A counter is a misdirection running play in which all the lineman block the defensive players to the left or the right, but the ball is run to that side regardless. The defensive players are pushed to the area of the run, but it is anticipated that their instinct to fight the block will carry them away from the play. An explosive running back can turn the corner and pass the line of scrimmage before the defensive players can redirect themselves.

2. Slot Receiver
The slot receiver is often the name for the third receiver on the field, who may or may not line up on the line of scrimmage. They don’t play every down and are primarily used for passing downs. Because the slot receiver plays inside of the other two receivers, he is often responsible for the middle of the field while the other two wideouts play the sides.

1. Fade Pattern
A fade pattern is a receiving route that is based on timing. The receiver will run or “fade” into the corner or sideline while the quarterback lobs the ball over his head on the edge of the field. This play is often run in the endzone, as it allows the quarterback to make a pass to a player in a crowded area without the defense being able to make a play on the ball.

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